Batman: Arkham City - The most ambitious game of 2011?

P-p-punch out a penguin...

It's a relief to finally get some proper hands-on time with Arkham City. Not that we didn't know what to expect; not that we didn't know it'd be ace - it's just that, hell, it's been too long.

So to once again assume the mantle of Batman, standing sentinel on the rooftops of Arkham, is triggering some proper trouser tentage. Away from the relative comfort of the Asylum, though, we feel like Batbabies - brave devs Rocksteady having introduced a menagerie of fresh features that suggest their ambitions for the sequel are as lofty as the gothic tenement we're currently perching atop.

All of a sudden, Batman explodes into action, swooping down to street level. With the sprawling city of Arkham effectively a pseudo-sandbox, Bats' cape is the en vogue way of getting from one corner of the map to the other at speed; holding A maintains a glidewhile the left stick steers him, and R swoops into a dizzying bullet-dive.

This can either be used to ram some poor SOB into the asphalt or simply pick up momentum; holding down before impact allows our hero to soar back towards the heavens. Then there's Grapple Boost, which allows Batman to lock onto gargoyles, signposts and so on while 'flying' to propel himself about with dizzying velocity. As far as gimmicks go, this sophisticated composite of rubber, Kevlar and, um, binbags is a zinger.

Next on the agenda, a Riddler quest - but one that's now intrinsically linked with the way Batman interacts with a group of streets punks found loitering on a street corner. Flicking over to Detective Mode, we identify one of the posse as an informant for the King of Conundrums.

The challenge is this: to duff up said baddies while leaving the snitch relatively untouched. It adds yet another layer to the already-strategic combat, now subtly enhanced by the way you're challenged by considerably larger mobs than those encountered within the Asylum.

This paves the way for a new fighty feature: the double block. Foes will come at you from all angles, some even lobbing material like bricks to put Bats off his, er... stroke. Now, you'll double or even triple tap block, allowing for some incredibly frenetic and satisfying counters. It's proper zen stuff, propelling the Batman light years ahead of his contemporaries when it comes to heart-pumping fisticuffs.

With The Riddler's stool pigeon kowtowed, three trophies pop up on the minimap. One's a cinch - we just Glide Kick through some creaky fencing to obtain it. The second involves five seconds of lateral thinking (five milliseconds if you're Pellett); said trophy is incarcerated within a mantrap that's triggered by a pressure pad.

Standing on the aforementioned plate, we simply activate our trusty Batclaw to retrieve the prize. At this point, Edward Nigma himself pops up on the Batspeaker to rip the piss, revealing he's upped the stakes by taking a hostage! Following his directions to a abandoned building, we're confronted by not only The Riddler's visage (Rocksteady having swapped out Arkham Asylum's disembodied vocal taunts for a flesh-and-blood incarnation in the sequel) but a Poeesque selection of giant saw wheels and electrified floor panels.

It won't just be your grey matter that's tested by the Prince of Puzzles then, but your reactions and reflexes, too. Think of them as Arkham's version of Assassin's Creed's Tombs and Romulus Lairs.

The demo's main (and not particularly well kept, it must be said) surprise is the unveiling of another DC fave - Godfather of Crime, the Penguin. True to Rocksteady's past form, the waddling one has been reimagined as a Cockney 'fixer', a geezer who's more gangland fence than refined crimelord.

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